Joe Biden: The “non-Jewish Zionist”

Biden grew up a devout Catholic and continues to attend Sunday Mass but three of his children have Jewish spouses.
US President Joe Biden (L) holds a bilateral meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Yair Lapid at a hotel in Jerusalem on July 14, 2022. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden calls himself a “non-Jewish Zionist,” using the phrase during his welcoming remarks after arriving in Israel on his first presidential visit to the country.

Biden grew up a devout Catholic and continues to attend Sunday Mass but three of his four children have Jewish spouses.

This is Biden’s 10th trip to Israel and he has met with every Israeli prime minister since Golda Meir.

Biden has Jewish grandchildren

US President Joe Biden lifts grandson Beau, the son of Hunter Biden, after returning to Washington, DC on June 30, 2022. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Three of Biden’s four children married Jewishly.

His late son Beau married Hallie Olivere and was the Bidens’ first Jewish daughter-in law. Biden actually knew Olivere’s mother while growing up and even joked about wanting to marry her:

“I was the Catholic kid. She was the Jewish girl. I still tried. I didn’t get anywhere,” he said.

The couple had two children, Natalie and Robert, before Beau passed away from brain cancer in 2015.

Biden’s other son, Hunter, married Jewish South African filmmaker Melissa Cohen, in 2019. Cohen calls herself a “devout Jew” and the couple have one son who they named after Beau.

Biden’s daughter Ashley also has a Jewish spouse. Ashley married Howard Krein, an ENT specialist at a Philadelphia hospital, in 2012 in a Catholic-Jewish ceremony. Biden reportedly danced the hora at the wedding and joked:

“I’m the only Irish Catholic you know who had his dream met because his daughter married a Jewish surgeon.”

Biden the Zionist

“President Nixon was the first American president to visit Israel in 1974,” Biden told the gathered crowd at Ben Guiron Airport on Wednesday.

“I was actually — my first visit was, as you mentioned, as a young United States senator from Delaware in 1973, just a few weeks before the Yom Kippur War. I had the privilege of spending time with Prime Minister Golda Meir.  I’ll never forget — I was sitting next to a gentleman on my right, one of her aides.  His name was Rabin. 

“I look back on it all now, and I realize that I had the great honor of living part of the great history of this great — and I did say and I say again, you need not be a Jew to be a Zionist.”

This is not the first time Biden has himself a Zionist.

“I am a Zionist. You don’t have to be a Jew to be a Zionist,” he said when he was a Democratic presidential candidate in 2007. Later that year he used the same phrase in an interview with Shalom TV.

As vice president in the Obama Administration Biden told the Saban Forum in 2014 that “if there weren’t an Israel, we would have to invent one.”

A year later, on Israeli Independence Day in Jerusalem, Biden told the crowd: “My name is Joe Biden, and everybody knows I love Israel.”

When Biden was a senator from Delaware he spoke at the 1984 annual conference of “Herut Zionists of America.” At the conference he gave a speech on Middle East peace, reiterating his stance on Israel having a right to exist.

How the Holocaust shaped Biden’s views

Biden has also repeatedly mentioned that while growing up his father would share stories about the Holocaust and what happened to the 6 million Jews murdered in World War II.

“Having been raised by a righteous Christian who — we had dinner at our table every night before he went back to work, and it was a place where we had conversation and, incidentally, ate. And I remember he taught us all about what happened in the Holocaust. ‘Why weren’t the tracks bombed? Why did we not — why, why, why?’ And he imbued in us a sense of obligation that we all have,” the president said during his opening remarks after disembarking Air Force One.

Biden has invoked his father before, at the 2013 AIPAC Conference he said:

“It was at that table that I learned that the only way to ensure that it could never happen again was the establishment and the existence of a secure, Jewish state of Israel. I remember my father, a Christian, being baffled at the debate taking place at the end of World War II.”